Ministry wants to create shelters for over 700,000 people in ten years

A sign designating a public shelter location in Talinn.
A sign designating a public shelter location in Talinn. Source: Rescue Board

Next week, Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) will present proposals to the government for additional shelters, which could provide shelter for around 730,000 people by 2034.

The rescue services (Päästeamet) have currently marked 94 public refuge places for around 50,000 people. However, the ministry of the interior's proposal is that in 10 years there would be enough place to provide emergency shelter to 730,000 people.

Läänemets said that one way to reach this number would be to amend the guidelines of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications regarding renovation subsidies, to allow the conversion of the basement into a refuge space when renovating an apartment building.

"By the end of April, housing associations will receive a call for proposals to create refuge spaces. We anticipate that this public offering will be funded for at least 10 years. It could cost up to one million this year, but if approved by the government, it will cost roughly €15 million per year. In this way, we could secure emergency shelter for approximately 500,000 people," Läänemets said.

The minister said that, as is the case in Finland, the provision of refuge areas should become mandatory when constructing new apartment buildings. A special national plan covering the entire country - specifying where and how many places are required - should be launched as well, the minister said.

The ministry of the interior is currently evaluating the technical requirements for such a space. The minister said that the shelter should protect from explosion waves and debris, but it should also have a generator, sanitation and ventilation.

"A basement will almost certainly be needed. Isn't a shelter basically a cellar? There is no need to build a separate empty room; instead, as in Finland, this could be a multi-purpose space, for example, it could be an underground parking garage. The goal is to avoid incurring additional costs," Läänemets explained.

Such refuge areas should be created in both public buildings and privately owned apartments blocks, the minister said.

"We are starting with the idea of doing everything voluntarily, as there is enough of enthusiasm and eagerness to participate in the project. At some point in the future, it is reasonable to say that we have x-number of years to bring non-compliant buildings into compliance, say 10 years. Given the scope of construction and other operations, imposing obligations straight away makes little sense," Läänemets added.

Margit Mutso, an architect, said that the government should have considered providing shelters a year ago, immediately following the outbreak of war in Ukraine, and that even now, not enough consideration is given to it in the construction of new buildings.

"Let me give you an example. A competition for the design of a cultural center in the heart of Tartu has just been announced and it says that having some kind of shelter-like space, such as a basement or parking garage, is sufficient. No one asks, however, what will happen if this shelter is required one day and 200-300 people take refuge there for several hours without sanitation, water or even ventilation. These issues have not been fully dealt with and I think this is totally unacceptable," Mutso said.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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